A compelling and troubling examination of the imperiled state of two important marine species.

ORCA

SHARED WATERS, SHARED HOME

A beautifully illustrated scientific, political, and humanitarian study of the threat posed by human encroachment to an iconic species of the Pacific Northwest.

In 2018, the eyes of the world were riveted on a real-life nature drama as Tahlequah, a female of a pod of orcas, carried her dead calf hundreds of miles through the waters of the Salish Sea in a public display of maternal grief that lasted for 17 days. Tahlequah’s tragic vigil, along with the nearby death of Scarlet, a newborn orca, from a mysterious wasting syndrome, highlighted an ecological emergency that threatens both the orcas and the chinook salmon they feed on. Indigenous nations have, historically and currently, revered the orcas as family, but White settlers in the United States and Canada have been more likely to slaughter them or capture them for display and amusement. In this book, co-published with the Seattle Times, Mapes, a Seattle Times reporter on the environment, presents a compelling portrait of the orcas as creatures of dignity and sensitivity, with brains that are better structured for empathy and social interaction than humans’. No less impressive are the orcas’ prey, Mapes notes—the “lustrous,” ancient, and resilient chinook salmon, whose already perilous journey upstream to spawn has been rendered nearly impossible by human encroachment. Pollution and noise damage the orcas, the author points out, and interfere with their ability to hunt. Illustrated with charts, diagrams, and spectacular photos by Seattle Times photographer Ringman and others, Mapes’ vigorous, evocative writing draws readers into the intertwined story of the orcas and the chinook and also effectively highlights Indigenous stewards of the land and sea, including members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. She explicitly charges that “it is our everyday destruction and pollution of the habitat that supports the orcas—and the salmon they eat—that is the major cause of the orcas’ decline.” However, Mapes also offers cautious hope in her account of the restorative effects of dam removal on Washington state’s Elwha River.  

A compelling and troubling examination of the imperiled state of two important marine species.  

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-68-051326-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Braided River

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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One of the funniest—and truest—books in recent memory and a must-have for fans of the poet laureate of human foibles.

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THE BEST OF ME

A welcome greatest-hits package from Sedaris.

It’s not easy to pick out fact from fiction in the author’s sidelong takes on family, travel, relationships, and other topics. He tends toward the archly droll in either genre, both well represented in this gathering, always with a perfectly formed crystallization of our various embarrassments and discomforts. An example is a set piece that comes fairly early in the anthology: the achingly funny “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” with its spot-on reminiscence of taking a French class with a disdainful instructor, a roomful of clueless but cheerful students, and Sedaris himself, who mangles the language gloriously, finally coming to understand his teacher’s baleful utterances (“Every day spent with you is like having a cesarean section”) without being able to reply in any way that does not destroy the language of Voltaire and Proust. Sedaris’ register ranges from doggerel to deeply soulful, as when he reflects on the death of a beloved sibling and its effects on a family that has been too often portrayed as dysfunctional when it’s really just odd: “The word,” he writes, “is overused….My father hoarding food inside my sister’s vagina would be dysfunctional. His hoarding it beneath the bathroom sink, as he is wont to do, is, at best, quirky and at worst unsanitary.” There’s not a dud in the mix, though Sedaris is always at his best when he’s both making fun of himself and satirizing some larger social trend (of dog-crazy people, for instance: “They’re the ones who, when asked if they have children, are likely to answer, ‘A black Lab and a sheltie-beagle mix named Tuckahoe’ ”). It’s a lovely mélange by a modern Mark Twain who is always willing to set himself up as a shlemiel in the interest of a good yarn.

One of the funniest—and truest—books in recent memory and a must-have for fans of the poet laureate of human foibles.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-62824-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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